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samedi, 19 septembre 2009

Thoughts about the Fall of Empires



Archives of "SYNERGIES EUROPEENNES" - 1995



Conference, London, 19th November 1995


Thoughts about the Fall of Empires


Robert Steuckers



When after the perestroika, after the Fall of the Wall in Berlin, after the withdrawal of Soviet troups out of Eastern Europe, after the crumbling down of the USSR, the United States were the only superpower left on the international scene and President Bush could effectively hope that a “New World Order” was about to emerge under the leading of his own blessed country. But the task to lead the world is not easy, as one remembers the prophecies of Prof. Paul Kennedy about the “imperial overstretch”. Many empires in his­tory have declined in the past simply because they couldn't manage to control all the lands under their rule or, to be more precise, to control all the highways of Empire on land and sea. This task necessitates a constant mobilization of all military, diplomatic and economic means.

- To mobilize the military means is very expensive and submits the imperial nation to the risk of neglecting domestic issues such as education or health. The fall down of the Empire could then be caused by a lack of drilled staff for companies or even for armies or by a overweight of the excluded social classes.

- To mobilize all the diplomatic means implies a constant search for new and reliable allies. But the art of diplomacy teaches us that you should avoid to rely to much on allies risking to become too powerful and to challenge you in coming years. Today the United States, as only remaining superpower, try to mobilize moderate Muslims around Turkey, fundamentalist-conservative Muslims around Saudi Arabia, fundamen­talist-revolutionnist Muslims around Sudan, to take over a certain degree of control in Central Asia, in the Gulf Region and in Northern Africa. But this must lead us to ask a urgent question: will those new allies be reliable enough for the long term? Isn't there any risk to see a part of them or even all of them evoluate like Iran and becoming overnight fanatical foes of the leading superpower? Philosophers among us will re­member Hegel's dialectics of Master and Slave. The Slave will obey as long as he cannot do anything else, so long he is paid to perform his job; he will even make himself indispensable. But as soon as he be­comes conscious of his power as adjunct or as ally, he will challenge his Master. This is a well-known law of history.

- To mobilize all economic means implies to spend a lot of money on defence and to restrain all expenses in other fields, such as health and education. In the long run, national solidarity vanishes, the nation is not a community anymore, the sense of mu­tual respect disappears, morality remains a simple souvenir, and national cohesion cannot work anymore to support the power of the State in the world. Lack of invest­ments in education leads to engage staff abroad, even in potentially ennemy coun­tries. Subordinated States may easily take advantage of the fact that the military burden is supported by the leadership po­wer and invest in social domestic affairs, gaining in national cohesion and in educa­tion, i.e. in a policy that will give them ve­ry soon better managers and better engi­neers.


Due to the imperial overstretch and to some domestic weaknesses,

- first, the necessity of controlling Central Asia to contain Russia,

- second, the necessity of controlling the Gulf to contain Irak and Iran or to prevent any European or Japanese assertiveness in the most important oil-producing fields of the world,

- third, the necessity to control all the lands between the Mediterranean and the Horn of Africa, imply already nowadays to delegate some power

- to Britain, to negociate with the Islamic challengers in Algeria;

- and to Germany, to negociate directly with Iran, as Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel officially announced last week in the columns of the most important weekly magazine of Continental Europe, Der Spiegel of Hamburg.If boycott of Iran is the official policy of Washington, “critical dialogue” will be the new policy of Berlin towards Teheran.


The delegation of tasks to London and Berlin is in fact a setback in the imperial strategics of Washington, because it means reintroducing Britain and Germany in areas from where both had been excluded during the events of this century by a direct or an indirect intervention of the United States. The question is now: Will the States be able to control entirely the policy of German diplomats and industrialists in Iran, espe­cially when Germans will act in their first steps with the tacit agreement of America? The delegation of po­wer indicates that the overstretch is already unmanageable.



But beside the established fact of a rising difficulty to control all what has to be controlled, which are the schemes of imperialism today?


a) MILITARY IMPERIALISM. The military imperialism of the lonely superpower of 1995 consists of remain­ders of alliances settled at the time of Cold War. The NATO cannot have the same goal and purposes now than ten years ago when Berlin was divided by a Wall and mine fields and when Russian troups were con­centrated in Thuringen, fifty miles from Frankfurt, where you find the most important strategic airfield of Central Europe. The most logic evolution NATO will undergo in the years to come is a merging of the European pillar with the WEU and a gradual disengagement of the USA. The WEU will then absorb new countries such as Austria, Hungary, Slovenia and the Czech Republic, giving the alliance a true European profile, which will not be “Atlantic” anymore. Further we may hope a gradual merging of the WEU and the OSCE in order to keep peace throughout Europe and Northern and Central Asia. Let us hope that this OSCE will gain more substance in the decennia to come.


b) DIPLOMATIC IMPERIALISM. The first task of Washington will be to instigate disorder throughout the world, especially in high strategic regions, in order that no other power be in state of controlling them and take over some leadership. Disorder will mobilize forces that wouldn't so be able to merge and to initiate peace processes or imperial processes in the old non imperialist sense of the word. The task of Washington will —as usual for every leading power— be to avoid the emergence of challengers. But would it be possible to keep Turkey in a minor role if Turkey is in charge of coordinating the turkic peoples of Central Asia and is to become as such a hegemonic power upon a group of countries with more than 130 millions inhabitants? Would it be possible to compel Berlin to follow gently every suggested policy of Washington if Germany, as a very powerful and efficient industrial country, starts a tandem working with an oil-power and a potential military power as Iran? Especially when one remembers that WW1 was fought partly to prevent any hegemonic domination of German industry in the Middle East...


c) TECHNOLOGICAL IMPERIALISM. Washington controls by means of the GATT or the IMF the World Trade. But the ideology behind those schemes born immediately after WW2 is a free-market ideology, ai­ming at destroying all protective customs to create at the end a unified happy and uniform world, i.e. the world feared by George Orwell. But protective customs were a system invented by less powerful countries at industrial level to help their own people to develop a genuine industry, evolving according to the cultural schemes of the people. Between 1944 and 1946, the USA, being at that time the most powerful industrial country, wanted to preserve the world as it was, i.e. to reign over a wide set of destroyed or slowly deve­lopping countries. The developpment of Japan and Germany, as well as the “New Industrial Countries” of East Asia has jeopardized the domestic market of the United States themselves, simply because Japan, Germany, Taïwan and Singapore hadn't the burden of financing a huge army and a high level military tech­nology, able to intervene everywhere in the world. The result is that Japanese cars and gadgets overflow the stores in the USA, according to the principle of free market imposed in former times by Roosevelt and Truman, but American cars and gadgets don't overflow the Japanese shops...


On one level America is defending itself with an undeniable success: in the field of medias. One trump-card gained during WW2 is still a considerable asset: the widespread use of an impoverished English lan­guage throughout the world, as a kind of new pidgin. But this pidginization allows America to send eve­rywhere scientific and cultural products, to set up data banks and to control the computer industry. But is pidginization not a provisional situation? Methods to learn the English language have been spread in the world, so that a pragmatic non-American and non-British elite is now able to use the language properly and to send information in English through the data banks or internet. This is already the case, mainly in European countries, where English is easily learned and taught due to the fact that the local languages are related to it, such as in Germany and the Scandinavian and Low Countries. Information with a totally different cultural background can now modify the dominant ideology using the same language as the one of the dominant ideology. Other philosophical or spiritual assets can now have a certain impact on the global ideology and relativize its certainties. At the end of the process, the global ideology wouldn't be the same anymore. Dominated cultures can infiltrate the dominating discourse. The same can happen with anglicized India. Indians print and write in English, infiltrating at the time Indian conceptions and ways of thinking in the entire English-speaking and English-dominated sphere. India can become the first voice of the non-European non-White world directly in the most widespread language of European origin. 



How to struggle against the various forms of imperialism?


a) Againt MILITARY IMPERIALISM, the best policy in Europe is now a policy of inertia. The best thing we can do in Europe now is to wait, to delay all payments, to develop slowly the European pillar and the mer­ging with the WEU. But we must also pay attention not to be bereft of some opportunities in the Middle East, or to some accesses to waterways and to balanced markets with smaller powers outside Europe, that we shouldn't consider as half-colonies but as true partners.


b) In front of DIPLOMATIC IMPERIALISM, it is up to European journalists, politicians, intellectuals, uni­versity teachers, private initiatives to suggest endlessly alternatives to the present World Order, which is based on an ideology giving to much importance to money and to less importance to culture, education, research, tradition and religion. We have to fill the “spiritual gap”, having emerged, decennia after decen­nia, because we had no “technological gap”.


c) Against TECHNOLOGICAL IMPERIALISM, we must pay an uttermost attention to responsability for the innumerable assets of our Mother-Earth, i.e. for all ecological matters, because the sick environment of this 20th century has lead us to discover that all things of the Earth have limits and that it is not possible to ignore merely those limits as a certain  narrow rationalistic and Cartesian philosophy had taught us to practice in our economical activities. We have also to respect the principle of RECIPROCITY at global le­vel. It is not a good policy to let entire continents starve or be plunged into the most awful disasters of war, genocide and civil dissent. Renewed imperialism is not a solution for Africa nor disguised colonialism for Latin America, but the future will be built according to the principles of cooperation and reciprocity. For instance, cheap productions of Third World Countries should be taxed when imported but not in money. Exporting Third World Countries should be given the opportunity to buy higher technology in the rich coun­tries importing goods from them, so that people there can keep their jobs; the French economist Lauré suggested a VAT for Third World products, that would be treasured in order to buy higher technologies or other needed goods in the importing country; indeed the industrial countries shouldn't suffer from a duali­zation of their own societies, where happy fews would live in luxury next to hoboized masses. Dual socie­ties emerge when cheap goods of abroad replace the same goods produced at home. Such a situation creates problems: worklessness and misery in developped countries, no take-off and starvation in deve­lopping countries. A cul-de-sac out of which we all need to get out.


And if the GATT forbids customs, it doesn't forbid norms. Stabilization of domestic markets could happen in the future not by applying customs but by imposing quality norms in order to protect performing domes­tic branches, avoid worklessness, preserve jobs and prevent any dualization of society.


Falls of Empires have always obliged people to act locally, to turn to regional planning. So it was after the crumbling down of Roman Empire in Europe. Today regional planning is a necessity again, especially in “margin-regions” like the “Atlantic Bow” (from Portugal to Britanny) or the “Mezzogiorno”. Even in the Uni­ted States regional planning is now seen as a rather urgent necessity, more particularly within the bio­regionalist and communitarian movements, that may be considered as two of the most interesting political issues overthere at present time. But this return to regional roots and facts is now possible in interaction with global technologies such as Internet. Cooperation, exchange of information, intercultural education are now possible without violence or colonial control, i.e. without the necessity of loosing one's roots and one's traditions. Being member of a genuine people, speaking a very difficult and archaic language, lear­ning old languages, to be totally dipped in a religious or cultural tradition will be assets and no more draw­backs. But to reach this global diversity, we will have to struggle patiently. It's a long long way to global diversity. But we invite everyone in the world to march joyfully towards this goal.


As the German solar-energy-engineer Hermann Scheer recently wrote in his book “Back to Politics” (Zurück zur Politik, Piper, Munich, 1995), we must struggle for a global economical order allowing every State to have his own energy and environment policies, for dismantling monopolies in economy, politics and medias, struggle to impose a new agricultural order getting rid of cereals monopolies and genetic ma­nipulations, struggle to restore ecological agriculture and communications systems.


As the Slovenian-Italian philosopher Danilo Zolo (in Cosmopolis, Feltrinelli, Milano, 1995) says, “the old hierachical model ... will be replaced by a new logic, the logic of ‘weak pacifism’, i.e. not the usual and conventionnal pacifism that aims at suppressing definitively wars in the world but a new pacifism that res­pects the diversity of cultures and accepts competition between divergent interests”. But without plane­tarizing wars and conflicts.

To reach such an anti-utopia is possible. But, as I already just said, the way to it is very very long. I there­fore repeat: let us march joyfully towards it.

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